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African startup advice series: regaining service consciousness

By , ITWeb
Africa , 24 Oct 2014

African startup advice series: regaining service consciousness

It is just me, or have small businesses lost service consciousness? As a small business owner myself, I like to support other small businesses. But I am becoming increasingly frustrated at the attitude on the other end of the line. It's as if they are the ones doing me a favour!

Newsflash... small businesses are generally the ones with the most competition! There are only a handful of major banks in Africa. You can count the major insurance companies on your fingers. These large companies are constantly vying for our attention and have focused campaigns to improve customer service.

Now how many computer repair companies are out there? And how many builders? How many printing shops do we have to choose from when we need something printed? Hundreds... yet these small businesses seem to make no attempt to make the customer feel valued.

Through the internet, we now have access to unlimited amounts of information – we search for a product or service and we get thousands of opinions, options and choices. We need to recognise that our customers now have greater choice - they have unlimited access to buy products and services from anybody else and in some cases from anywhere in the world. No longer can we rely on the fact that as long as our customers are satisfied with what we do, they will stay with us. They will be constantly bombarded with new choices. Can we really afford to just sit back and hope that they don't go and try our competitors?

Small businesses rely heavily on referrals and 'word of mouth'... but what do you suppose your customers are saying about your business if you are doing the bare minimum? How do you expect customers to rave about you if you just do what is expected of you?

We have to work as hard on keeping our existing clients as we do on getting new ones. This is a really important issue. There is no point in investing in strategies to generate new leads if you are losing as many clients as you bring on board. Perhaps it's time to assess if you can use some of the marketing budget to look after existing customers and grow your business through improved customer retention.

So the key question to ask yourself is: why should your customers stay with you? The first answer is, of course, the product or service you supply. This must be first class and give great value for money. However, it is not sufficient to provide a satisfactory product or service. The real key to building customer loyalty is going the extra mile for them and creating the "wow factor".

Think of it as the little extras that you do for your customers over and above the normal product or service you provide. It's the things you do that tap into the emotions of your customers and leave a lasting impression. That waiter at the restaurant you go to regularly that remembers your "usual" order and reserves your favourite table for you. When you arrive at reception to drop your car off for a service and they greet you by name.

These are little subtleties that we seem to have lost in small businesses. But if we want to really impress our customers we need to do much more. We need to introduce little extras, which we call "critical non-essentials" or CNE's. The key to their success is that they are not directly related to the product or service you are offering. Just giving more or better service is not enough; your customers expect the best, so when you deliver it, they are just getting what they have paid for. The 'wow factor' comes when you surprise your client with something different and unique to them, so much so that they not only say 'wow' to themselves, but they also go and tell everybody they know about it.

Receiving a birthday gift from a business I deal with regularly; tickets for the whole family to attend an international rugby match; a book that was recommended to me at our last meeting. These are wonderful surprising touches that are so memorable that I tell people about it whenever I get the opportunity!

If you don't allocate some time, effort and money to looking after your existing customers, your competition might beat you to it.

Greg is CEO and Business & Executive Coach at bizHQ. He writes columns for ITWeb Africa that provide advice for up-and-coming African technology businesses and startups. To find out more about Greg Mason, be sure to visit his website:

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